Homesick? Here's how to meet locals and get your travel grove back!
I love to travel – any way, any style. Tiny villages, huge cities, everything in between. But some cities can be so huge and overwhelming, it feels like you can spend your entire visit just trying to figure things out.
Here are few tips to find the heart of a village within the huge city.
1.) Study some maps in advance. Discover the different main neighbourhoods. Learn where the oldest neighborhood is to determine how the city expanded. Find a couple of key landmarks and do a quick Google Street View check to learn routes – good for safety and feeling familiar.
2.) Instead of booking hotels smack in the geographic city center, try for a centrally located neighborhood within the city – like Montreal’s Chinatown for great food, London’s Pimlico for quiet, polished streets and inns, or Lilongwe’s old city for expat bars. You’ll find yourself in the heart of a mini-community – be it dynamic and exciting, or quiet and refined. There will be small pubs, bars, cafes, bistros, takeaways, parks, community centres, houses of worship, maybe even museums – few of which have ever seen the inside of a guidebook. You’ll have more than a hotel to return to after seeing the famous sites – you’ll have a whole neighbourhood to call your own.
My favourite street in Paris – less than 5 minutes from the Louvre – has an amazing hostel, a great tiny Chinese takeaway, an even smaller bar serving cheap beer and omelettes, and – best of all – a bakery that always has a generous stock of madeleines. Except for the hostel, nothing else graces a guidebook and everyone passes by all these great finds on route to the nearby famous attractions.
3.) Hotel concierges can be a lifesaver, but they may also steer you towards a more commercial kind of restaurant. Ask the valet parking guys, the bus boys, the airport bus driver, or sidewalk chalk artist for a recommendation. Be specific. No one will give their best tips if you ask them for a “good bar”. Instead ask for their favourite deli for a good rye bread, a cheap Chinese takeaway, a good park to let the kids run free. If they know, they’ll open up, unable to resist bragging about their own amazing find. Tip generously.
4.) I’m a huge fan of walking tours, and luckily in big cities there is a wide selection. I usually take a general tour of the city’s highlights, and then a smaller tour of a certain neighbourhood or for a certain theme. Like port importation in West St. John’s, London’s Inns of Court, or the history of Bern’s clocks. You’ll make some new, if temporary, friends, and likely try some new pubs at the end as well. Likewise, for every big attraction, there are hidden gems hidden within. The art gallery of Hawaii has a Tuesday lunch hour culture presentation. On Hawaii's Big Island at the Greenwell Estates museum, fresh-baked bread from ancient ovens is made every Thursday. There is always a special reason to visit a site on a certain day. Find it.
5.) Ask for advice! The internet offers endless ways to connect with locals and gain insider’s advice. I've been using Journey Woman for over 10 years and it’s never steered me wrong. Go beyond regular travel guides and pick up some travel novels, magazines, and themed guides. the more you learn about your destination, the better. Your travels can still be spontaneous and carefree, you’ll just have a better knowledge base.
There’s nothing like the feel of a huge metropolis. There are times when a Starbucks can be a beacon of hope! But you don’t have to get swept away in the crowd to feel the heart and pulse of a city.
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. What do you do to feel more "at home" when you travel?
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